Love addition could be a sweet experience to the beneficiary, but as PsychAlive shows here, it may not be exactly mutually beneficial.
While the term “love addiction” may be controversial among mental health professionals, having an overwhelming or obsessive compulsion toward love or a loved one is not uncommon. That is love addition! Love addicts have a fantasy of being rescued by their loved one and often believe that this one person can somehow make them okay. They have too high an opinion of the object of their affection, and too low an opinion of themselves. Because of this, love addicts pour too much time and energy into their relationships, while neglecting their own well-being, family, friendships and even careers.
Although it has not been classified as an official diagnosis, the term “love addiction” can be very useful in understanding specific problematic relationship patterns and behaviors. It can also be helpful in shedding light on how to break a deeply rooted psychological compulsion.
Characteristics of a love addiction
Love addiction is defined by a specific set of characteristics and behaviours. According to Pia Mellody, author of Facing Love Addiction, “Possibly the most significant characteristic of love addiction is that we assign too much time and value to another person.” Someone with a love addiction focuses almost entirely on the object of their desire. This, often obsessive, focus begins to have a negative effect on the rest of their life.
Love addictions involve a great deal of fantasy. As you’ll read later, love addictions form as a result of painful childhood experiences. Consequently, love addicts often have a fantasy of being rescued. It’s as if the person they are longing for is the only person in the entire universe who has the power to take away their pain, give them everything they longed for and never got as a child, and make them feel safe, valued, and worthy. This magical thinking leads love addicts to cling to the relationship, even when the relationship itself is flawed.
Often these relationships are deeply flawed. Love addicts tend to select partners who have a fear of intimacy and will neglect the relationship. Yet, the love addict maintains a fantasy that everything will get better, their partner will change, and they will finally receive the love and fulfilment they so desperately crave.
Love addicts overlook major red flags in their partners. They are often at odds with friends and family who continually encourage them to find someone better. Love addicts don’t want to find someone better; rather they want to uncover a better version of the person they are with. Additionally, love addicts tend to have low self-esteem and believe that if they only improve themselves (by losing weight, removing character flaws, etc.) their partner will suddenly offer them the relationship of their dreams. This fantasy becomes like a lifeline and it keeps the relationship going.
Pia Mellody writes that “Instead of developing mature intimacy, Love Addicts seek to enmesh, to merge, to get completely connected to their partners.” This type of enmeshed intimacy can be described as a “fantasy bond”—an illusion of connection and closeness between two people that is substituted for feelings of real love and intimacy.
Why do love addictions form?
The roots of love addiction extend back to early childhood. A history of abandonment, neglect, or inadequate or inconsistent nurturing can lead to love addiction. Like other addictions, love addiction is often the result of insecure attachment patterns.
Attachment patterns develop during the first 18 months of life as a result of how the primary caregiver (usually the mother) interacts with the infant. In order for the infant to develop secure attachment, the child must feel SAFE, SEEN, and SOOTHED. The way the caregiver relates to their child at times when the child is upset or in distress is of utmost importance.
A securely attached child will consistently turn to their parent for comfort and connection when they are upset, get soothed, calm down, and then go back to whatever they were doing before. Insecure attachment develops when a parent is unable to consistently sooth their child. In this scenario, the upset child turns to their parent for comfort and connection, but they get ignored, or their parent is too anxious or distracted to properly soothe them, or they are scolded or even abused for crying and having needs. How attuned the parent is to their child at times of distress over time forms an attachment pattern that follows the child into their adult relationships.
Most love addicts had a parent, or parents, that were not attuned to them as small children. They were unable to meet their child’s primary needs for love, connection, and validation. This lack of parental nurturance, or worse, parental rejection, is extremely painful to a child. So the child, and later the adult, takes refuge in a fantasy of love to avoid the pain. Therapist Caroline Becker explains, “Love addiction develops when reality is too painful for the conscious mind to manage and so a fantasy version of a loved one and of life with that person develops.”
According to Caroline, “The love addict’s behavior comes from an unconscious place of pain due to trauma from abuse (emotional, physical, or sexual) and/or neglect that occurred early in life. By focusing on someone else, the pain of trauma and/or neglect is avoided, remaining unconscious.” This is why a love addict’s needs in adult relationships feel so enormous; it’s because they were not met when they were a child.
Partners love addicts choose
When it comes to love addiction, it takes two to tango. A love addict will (unconsciously) look for a partner who avoids intimacy. Pia Mellody refers to these partners as “Love Avoidants.” According to Mellody, “Love Avoidants consciously (and greatly) fear intimacy because they believe that they will be drained, engulfed, and controlled by it.” Often these people were drained, engulfed or controlled by the emotions and needs of others when they were small children.